Mestalla, Valencia – Having played nine matches Valencia are still unbeaten, winning six and drawing three – with two of those draws coming against Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Perhaps more impressively is that, in doing so, they have scored twenty-five goals with Simone Zaza scoring eight of them, leading to the former Juventus and West Ham striker being named La Liga player of the month for September. A start to the season that owner, Peter Lim, has long been hoping for.
When the Singaporean businessman finally bought Valencia in August 2014, after months of negotiations, he had ambitions of taking the club back to the upper echelons of European let alone Spanish football. The previous seasons had been far from disastrous – three consecutive 3rd placed finishes under Unai Emery and two Europa League semi-finals – yet Lim appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as manager with the mandate of taking Valencia back to where the fans believe they belong.
The Portuguese coach impressed in his first season by taking Los Che to fourth place whilst playing an attacking style. But by the November of the following season, Nuno was gone. Five wins from thirteen matches and failure to progress from the Champions League group-stage led to Nuno leaving his post as coach. The fans had turned on him as they saw him as the figurehead of the growing influence of agent Jorge Mendes in the club’s activities. What then followed was a mess – four different managers in the space of a season and a half. Valencia finished the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons 12th and 13th respectively but on both occasions, relegation was possible if not probable. There had been a lack of direction, no distinct playing style, far too many individual errors and a buildup of deadwood in terms of players. Directors came and went, the president resigned and even the match day delegate was forced to become manager but – even after a relatively decent spell in charge – could not be encouraged to continue.
So when Marcelino took his seat at the post-match press conference on Saturday evening there was an ecstasy in the room that had been absent in recent seasons – the victory against Sevilla was their fifth consecutive win. Marcelino – who was appointed as Valencia manager in the summer after a successful time with neighbours Villarreal in which he led them to the Europa League semi-finals – has cleared the dressing room of the players who had not been pulling their weight and brought in players who are eager and keen to impress. An attacking style of play has been implemented at the Mestalla this season – a deviation from Marcelino’s slightly more defensive and pragmatic approach but manager, players and supporters alike seem to be enjoying the ride.
The Mestalla was lively at full time – the notoriously hard-to-please crowd have been well and truly won over – it is the place to go for entertainment at the moment. The match started off at a high tempo with Valencia dictating tempo from the start. Sevilla – who were beaten 5–1 by Spartak Moscow in the week – were pushed back and restricted to a few long-range shots. Carlos Soler had the first major chance of the match for Valencia – a swerving shot went just wide of Sergio Rico’s post. Further chances fell to Zaza and Rodrigo but it was in the 42nd minute that their persistence paid off – Guedes picked up the ball and raced forward, cut inside two defenders and hit a fearsome shot into the top corner. It was a fine goal by a player who has been the breakout star at Mestalla this season.
A second goal followed in the early stages of the second-half – Zaza continued his fine run of goalscoring with a left-footed finish past Rico. Sevilla didn’t look like mounting a comeback and, with many commentators still not convinced by Berizzo’s Sevilla, this week’s performances have done little to quell the air of dissatisfaction. Substitute, Santi Mina scored the third by finishing off a sumptuous delivery from Guedes in the 85th minute before Guedes, himself, completed his brace in stoppage time with a delicate finish into the Sevilla net.
The Mestalla was in overdrive – another exemplification of Marcelino’s ‘cup final style of football’ had the supporters of Los Che singing long into the night. The likes of Zaza, Kondogbia, and Guedes have impressed the home crowd in the early stages of the season and Spaniards Soler, Rodrigo, Mina, and Gaya all gave the on-looking Julen Lopetegui plenty to consider. But arguably the most important piece of this jigsaw is the man on the sideline – the man with the look and energy of a schoolboy, the man who once got cramp during a press conference and pulled a hamstring whilst celebrating a goal. After seasons of turbulence, the Mestalla has their manager. Marcelino’s men are dreaming big and at the moment it’s all coming to fruition.
Los Otros Puntos
- It was top of the table against bottom at Camp Nou and it took only 90 seconds for the leaders to go in front – Gerard Deulofeu scored his first goal for the club with a back-heel to give Barcelona an early lead against struggling Malaga. However, replays showed that Digne had taken the ball over the byline before delivering the cross for Deulofeu and, hence, the goal should have been ruled out. The goal turned out to be Barcelona’s only attempt in the first-half despite having 65 percent possession. Shortly after half-time, Messi forced Andres Prieto into a smart save low down to his left and then, in the 56th minute, Iniesta doubled the host’s lead. Javier Mascherano broke Malaga’s midfield line with a searching pass into Messi, who turned and slipped the ball through to Iniesta inside the area and his shot, which appeared to be creeping in any way, took a slight deflection off Roberto Rosales and ended up in the top corner. More chances came and went for Barcelona – Sergi Roberto teed up Luis Suarez but was unable to find the target with his shot and Messi had a headed goal correctly ruled out for offside. La Blaugrana were expected to win this match, which they did, but were far from their best.
- The tempo was set early on at the Bernabeu – Isco running through the Eibar defence and forcing a good save from Dmitrovic, who was Eibar’s best player on the night. Yet it was an own goal by Oliveira that gave Real Madrid the lead – his header floated over Dmitrovic when he tried to clear Asensio’s cross. Ten minutes later and Asensio doubled Madrid’s lead as he swept home Isco’s cross on the half-volley. Eibar weren’t afraid of attacking and posed a threat on the counter-attack especially. However, substitute Marcelo sealed the victory with a swivelled finish after a classic Real Madrid move on the left. The scoreline could have been worse for Eibar if it wasn’t for Dmitrovic saving numerous one-on-one chances. This was the sixth match this season in which Eibar have failed to score – albeit it was against Real Madrid.
- After last weekend’s thriller that left the city shaking for days, Real Betis scored two without reply to beat Alaves. In the 13th minute, Antonio Barragan picked out Antonio Sanabria who continued his fine run of goals – six goals in four matches – for Betis’ opener. An own-goal by Alexis doubled Real Betis’ lead deep in the second-half and sent Alaves to their eighth defeat of the season.
- Cedric Bakambu scored for the third consecutive league match as Villarreal eased past Las Palmas. Villarreal remain unbeaten at the Estadio de la Ceramica this season – Gaspar, Sansone, and an own goal by Navarro added to Bakambu’s opener to maintain Villarreal’s decent start to the season whilst Pako Ayestaran is still waiting for his first win as Las Palmas manager.
- Beauvue picked up the ball on the halfway line, went past one defender, then another and finished this magnificent solo run with a thumping shot past the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper – it sent Burtaque into delirium and Leganes to fifth.
Levante 1–1 Getafe
Real Betis 2–0 Alaves
Valencia 4–0 Sevilla
Barcelona 2–0 Malaga
Villarreal 4–0 Las Palmas
Celta Vigo 0–1 Atletico Madrid
Leganes 1–0 Athletic Bilbao
Real Madrid 3–0 Eibar
Real Sociedad – Espanyol and Deportivo – Girona to be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Goncalo Guedes (Valencia)